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Old Town W/S Assessments Gives City Council Pause

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Image Courtesy of the City of Homer
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City of Homer

Concerns over how it will be paid for by property owners caused the Homer City Council Monday night to postpone passage of water and sewer assessment district.

There was much debate at Monday night’s Homer City Council meeting on the Bunnell Avenue and Charles Way Water and Sewer Improvement Special Assessment District, but action was ultimately delayed until next month.

Public testimony about the resolution centered on how the beneficiaries of the water and sewer service would be charged -- either equally or based on the square footage of the property being served.

Rick Vance said he turned down water and sewer service years ago when he purchased his property, and instead uses a well and septic system.

“I'm sixty-five years old and trying to retire. If you add it up over the course of ten years, the assessment would be over a thousand dollars a month for the next 10 years. To have water and sewer which is something that will never be used, we'll never flush a toilet, we'll never turn on a faucet, because we already have it,” he said.

Adrien Sweeney of A-J’s OldTown Steakhouse spoke, relating past experiences her family has had with assessment districts.

“My dad, along with five brothers and two cousins paid hundreds of thousands of

dollars - hundreds of thousands of dollars -- over a 20 year period in water and sewer assessments. And to this day, there is no city water and sewer there,” she said. “And they paid with their life savings.”

Former City Councilman Heath Smith spoke out against the benefitted area model in the ordinance, which charges large landowners more than small lot owners.

“The current mode that is being proposed here with this S.A.D, is that you can have a bunch of small lots gang up basically, and push the majority of the burden onto very few lots in order for it to pass. And they can dictate the outcome there. You get the same water spigot you get the same sewer hookup. If you're going to talk about the benefited area, that can be made up for when you talk about property tax,” he said. “If you compare how those things play out. and the cost distribution, it's not that much more for the smaller lots to absorb an equal share throughout that entire district, and that's what I would recommend.”

Matt Johnson said his estimated share of the assessment jumped five-fold under the benefited area method.

“Although we don't have need for city water and sewer at either lot, we were willing to shoulder our share of the project costs under the per-parcel method to benefit our neighborhood. We were shocked to learn that under the so-called benefited area calculation method, our costs skyrocketed by 500 percent to approximately $100,000, while the cost for other property owners were reduced,” he said. “We believe the benefited area method described in the latest set of documents are inherently flawed.”

Johnson went on to say it seems an attempt to make the fees equitable has backfired.

“It appears the change from the per-parcel method was adopted to address concerns that the large city-owned lot at Bishop’s Beach should pay a larger share, because there are many more people using that facility. That seems logical, but including our parcel in that calculation doesn't make sense,” he said. “Use of water and sewer facilities is not linked to the size of the property. The city's facility at Bishop Beach will be used by thousands each year, while our undeveloped lot at 193 Charles Way will see zero water and zero sewer customers for the foreseeable future.”

After debate amongst themselves, the city council voted to postpone the resolution until the second meeting in January.

Jay Barrett, KBBI's new News Director should be a familiar voice to our listeners. He's been contributing to Kenai Peninsula news for the last three years out of KDLL Kenai, and was the voice of The Alaska Fisheries Report from KMXT for 12 years. Jay worked for KBBI about 20 years ago as the Central Peninsula Reporter at KDLL.